As we've discussed previously, not all internships are created equal. In fact, not all internships are created legally. Some interns for the movie Black Swan are actually suing the studio as a result alleging that their internship was illegal. The trouble there is that as nice as it may seem to get your vengeance for a summer you seemingly wasted, it isn't exactly the best route to travel if you're interested in scoring a job at a similar company in the future (no matter how justified your case may be most bosses won't be willing to hire the kid that sued their friend- the entertainment industry is a very small place). So the key is to protect yourself along the way so that you avoid a terrible experience in the first place. So far, we've reviewed what actually makes an internship illegal and some steps you can take to spot a sketchy listing before you apply. Today is about what you can do during your interview to help prevent any problems down the road.
Observe the Environment
This is one of the simplest and most important things you can do while you are being lead through the office. Take a look at how people dress, sit, decorate their desks, eat their lunch, move around the office, interact, etc. Do people seem happy? Are they friendly? Is it the kind of work environment you could see yourself thriving in? Do you see any current interns and what are they doing?
Ask if You Can Speak With an Intern
This is a great way to get a good idea of what the environment will be like and what will be expected of you. Ask them about learning opportunities, networking, mentors, and anything else that is on your mind. Ask if they would recommend working there. And, if possible, try to do all of this outside of the office where they will feel more comfortable being honest without the pressure of their boss lurking over their shoulder. A lot of companies hire former interns so you may even be able to talk to an employee that used to be an intern. This is probably a good sign because it likely means both that he or she didn't hate the internship and that there's the possibility it could lead to a job.
Ask A Lot of Questions
Career advisers will tell you to go with questions so that you look prepared, but you also need some questions ready because this is your one chance to learn as much as you can about what you would be signing up for should you choose to intern there. So ask the people interviewing you what a typical day is like, if you will have a mentor, if you are allowed to meet with executives in other levels and departments to learn about their jobs, how often they hire interns, what type of work you will do, etc.
Make Sure You're on the Same Page
In addition to preparing questions, you should also take some time in advance to think about your goals for this internship. Use the time at the end where they ask if you have any questions to discuss your goals and find out if they are in line with the companies goals for interns. If you're going to intern at Billboard and are hoping to have the chance to write an article, then ask about it. If you want to learn about A&R at a record label then ask if you will have the chance to attend a showcase. Just be sure you phrase these questions in a way that shows curiosity, interest, and a desire to learn rather than a pretentious attitude of entitlement. You do need to earn these rewards by doing great work, but you should be clear about your interests and goals and find out what would be required of you in order to make them a reality.
Many people make the mistake of thinking than an interview is only about selling yourself and convincing the manager to hire you. But think back to when you were deciding what college to apply to. Sure a meeting with the admissions officer meant talking up your extracurriculars and maybe explaining why your SAT scores weren't quite as high as you would have liked, but it also meant seeing if the school fit what you were looking for. You probably took a tour, asked about student life, and made it a point to try the food in the cafeteria. Similarly, an interview is not just about selling yourself, it's also about gauging how well the company, its goals, and work environment fit with you.